Those Pesky Kanji…To read or not to read, that is the question…

When I decided to learn Japanese, I was faced with a question:  Should I learn the Kanji?  I mean, after all, they look really complicated and really hard and, anyway, don’t you have to learn about 10,000 of the things?

I was really learning Japanese for three reasons:

  1. Exercise the old brain to stop it from getting soft
  2. Japanese is just cool
  3. Watch Akira Kurosawa movies without subtitles

Since I was primarily interested in spoken Japanese (see #3 above), I decided to give learning the Kanji a miss.  And then one day it occurred to me:  I was going to go to all the trouble to learn another language and deliberately choose to be illiterate in that language?!  Really?!

No.  I would have to learn the Kanji. But I always heard that you had to learn thousands of Kanji…but, while there probably are thousands of Kanji, but you can be functionally literate just by learning the daily use Kanji, and there are only a little over 2,000 of those, so that’s a little more manageable.

Still…2,000?! (No, a little more than 2,000)

I know a guy who we’ll call Ken (largely because that’s his name) who learned Japanese well enough to get by in Japan, well enough to watch anime without subtitles, well enough that he did a fan translation of some manga, and I asked him  how he learned the kanji.

“Brute force memorization,” was the answer.

*sigh*  I was kind of hoping for a system.

So I went to the bookstore where I came across Remembering the Kanji by Heisig.  I looked at, and I thought, “Well, this is a system…but it’s a stupid system!”  Heisig’s method involves making up a little story for each character.  That seemed like more work than just memorizing the kanji.

And, by the way, the book doesn’t teach you the meaning of the kanji in Japanese, but in English, which seemed like a total waste of time, so I did not get that book.

By which I proved that I am an idiot.

When I settled down in earnest to actually study Japanese, I started with the Hacking Japanese Supercourse from, and, after a brief gathering of helpful tools, it dives right into the kanji using Heisig’s method, and, what do you know, it works.

That’s the thing.  It works.

So, I am learning the kanji and what they mean in my native language.  Why?  Because it will make vocabulary acquisition a lot easier.  I can see that already, because, believe it or not, those complicated little pictures actually make sense when you get to know them, and the meaning of a word can often be deduced from the kanji building blocks used to write it.

And, by the way, I am NOT learning how to write the kanji, only how to read them.  After all, a computer can type them for me, and that’ll take the place of writing, at least for now.

So, here’s what we learned today:

  1. I am an idiot
  2. Remembering the Kanji actually does help you remember the kanji (who’d have thunk it)
  3. Learning the kanji is a good idea because reading is fundamental
  4. A normal human being actually can learn the kanji
  5. the Hacking Japanese Supercourse works

頑張って (Go ahead, look it up, you know you want to.)

By the way, this is day 49 of learning the kanji, and: (you can click on the picture to make it bigger)


As you can see from my anki stats, 54% of the card are “in play”, leaving 46% unseen so far.  It says that I have learned 549 of the cards (25% of the total) and am in the process of learning another 635 (29% of the total).

To motivate me, I look at landmarks that I’ve achieved.  I have actually learned 25% of the symbols:  Yippee!

After I study tomorrow, the number of unseen cards will be below 1,000: Yippee!

After I study tomorrow, that will be 50 straight days of studying without missing a day:  Yippee!

頑張って (The one above was directed at you.  This one is for me :-))


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